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Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

When Hollywood Cared About Chemical Spills

The East Palestine disaster was a sad sequel to Silkwood.

"Silkwood" Premiere - Los Angeles

Suppose a toxic train wreck happened and no one cared. Something like that recently happened in East Palestine, Ohio, where in February a Norfolk Southern train carrying all manner of noxious chemicals derailed. Neither Joe Biden nor Kamala Harris deemed it necessary to pay a morale-boosting visit, and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg eventually put in an obligatory appearance only on the heels of the arrival in town of Donald Trump—who remains the highest-profile figure to express, in person, a level of care and concern commensurate to the catastrophe.

Numerous conservative talking heads have surmised that the Biden administration’s disinterest stemmed from the political makeup of East Palestine. In the 2020 election, Columbiana County preferred Trump over Biden 72 percent to 27 percent. For the governing class in 2023, East Palestine is a throwaway place with disposable, possibly even deplorable, people.